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2023-24’s Biggest Storylines #5 – A Full Season of Mattias Ekholm

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
7 months ago
One of the big stories that defined the 2022-23 season for the Oilers was Ken Holland’s big move ahead of the trade deadline.
When he acquired Mattias Ekholm from the Nashville Predators, it not only showed that the team was all-in for the upcoming playoff run but the fact that Holland grabbed an impact player with multiple years left on his deal showed that the Oilers believed that the core group they have is capable of being legitimate Stanley Cup Contenders for years to come.
In just 21 regular season games, Ekholm made an enormous impact on the blueline and today on my offseason countdown, I want to talk about how significant of an impact he could make over the course of a full season.
Darnell Nurse started playing better once Ekholm came to town. All of a sudden he and Ceci didn’t have to handle all of the tough assignments. There was another pairing that could take some of the weight off.
Before Ekholm arrived, Nurse and Ceci had played 814 minutes together at 5v5 and in that time, the Oilers only had 47% of the shots on goal. They also started 44% of their shifts in the offensive zone.
In the final 21 games of the season, with Ekholm in the lineup, the duo played 266 minutes together at 5v5 and were dead even at 12 goals for and 12 goals against. The Oilers also got 51% of the shots for and the Nurse/Ceci pairing saw their offensive zone starts tick up to 46%. It wasn’t a massive jump, but the results got better.
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Ekholm’s biggest impact was on Evan Bouchard.
Bouchard went from a third-pairing defenseman, who struggled in his own end to a legit second-pairing d that you could trust going out there against the other team’s best because he could move the puck up the ice and he had a partner who could bail him out when he needed it.
Before Ekholm was acquired, Bouchard had played most of his time with Philip Broberg and while the results were good, they were in a sheltered role and started the majority of their shifts in the offensive zone.
While Bouchard’s results with Broberg were fine, his numbers took a massive jump once he was paired up with Ekholm. 
In 289 5v5 minutes with both Ekholm and Bouchard on the ice, the Oilers outscored the opposition 27-8. That’s just flat-out incredible. The team also controlled 53% of the shots and 59% of the shot attempts. They were an elite pairing.
It’s easy to get excited about what a full season of Eklhom and Bouchard could look like it. They’ll likely be more comfortable together and considering the fact that Bouchard is still a few months away from his 24th birthday and hasn’t even played 200 regular-season games yet, there’s a good reason to believe that he’ll be able to take another step forward this season.
It’s without a doubt one of the biggest storylines heading into this season. Last October, the left-side of the Oilers blueline featured Darnell Nurse, Brett Kulak, and Philip Broberg. You could make the argument that everyone was playing one slot too high on the depth chart.
This season, that won’t be the case. With Nurse and Ekholm handling the top-four minutes, Kulak can slide down into the third pairing and give Jay Woodcroft and his staff three sets of defensemen who can be trusted in almost any scenario. 
They won’t need to overwork Nurse and they won’t have to hope that a young pairing of Bouchard and Broberg can just survive every game. Their blueline has a chance to develop into an actual strength and that’s all thanks to the arrival of Mattias Ekholm.

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